Religion As A Tool For Impoverishing Nigerians, Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

churchIn a country where good roads, electricity and healthcare facilities are taken to God in prayer, the link between religion and poverty is worth analysing more closely. Do Nigerians turn to religion due to despair, or do people fall into poverty as a result of their religious beliefs? This question is pertinent because seemingly intelligent, educated people in Nigeria believe they have no control over their lives because their living and dying has been preordained and it is all in God’s hands. For these people, life choices do not count. The only method of making major life decisions – where to school, where to live, who to marry is “to tell my pastor and pray over it.”

Why are poor nations the most religious? Why do poor people cling to religion? The answer is obvious, when you are in pain you take painkillers! Poverty is pain, religion soothes poverty! The poor rely on religion for comfort. Across the planet and especially in Africa, the most impoverished people are often told their reward is in heaven and that they should be thankful for being alive. Thus, the poor embrace religion as a way to handle the plight they have no power to escape.

Apart from Buddhists, I’m not aware of anyone who is happy to be poor. That is why people want to pray away poverty. People only pray over the uncertainties in life. No one, except Nigerians, pray for things they have control over. No one prays to strike a match or to open one’s mouth. The more uncertainties one experiences in life, the more religious one becomes. It is also a fact that people with low Intelligence Quotient (IQ) have less understanding of reality, they face more uncertainties and have less control of their lives. This means the underclass are more religious than wealthy and intelligent people. As a consequence, the more the population of the underclass in a nation, the poorer the nation is, the more religious the nation is and the more it gets exploited by the clergy. When people are poor they lean on religion for comfort.

In a 2010 Gallup poll of 100 countries, the data showed a strong, positive correlation between strict adherence to religion and privation. In like manner, an independent study by Dr. Tom Rees, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, showed that in places without strong social safety nets to provide people with opportunities for upward mobility, they are more likely to be religious. When suffering becomes a constant in the lives of people, they are easily consoled by visions of the apocalypse, judgement, punishment and hell. Poverty, deprivation and suffering often leads to consolatory beliefs that the world will soon end, with God rewarding the faithful with everlasting joy where there is no want, no toil, no tribulation. The doom and gloom predictions of the rapture and the trials and tribulations that humanity will face, as found in Christian fundamentalism, is thus made popular. The scenario helps perpetuate suffering by attributing a higher purpose to human pain and suffering as part of God’s grand plan for absolution among His chosen.

The religionists may argue that religion does provide real assistance and a sense of security to the poor. That is true to a lesser extent, it does not solve the problems associated with poverty. What the religious houses give in assistance, they take back a thousand fold in tithes and offerings. Religion as a positive social influence in Nigeria is a decoy for much larger social problems that promotes poverty. One of the biggest problem in Nigeria is religion. Just how does the lowly working class focus on developing logical, realistic plans to escape the oppression of the powerful who promote religion to keep the poor content with their parlous state on earth? The truth is that the Nigerian ruling elite in collaboration with the clergy want everyone in perpetual bondage. They know, if the poor gets wise and stops waiting for the reward of the afterlife, they will start fighting for some of that reward right here, right now. They will stop worshipping their oppressors and start demanding their fair share. That is why a Senator will rather build Churches, and Mosques while governors will prefer to distribute rice, kerosine, vegetable oil and chicken than to build good and equipped schools or give scholarships to reputable institutions of learning.

Religion in Nigeria has become a powerful open trap that exerts tremendous social pressure that is often impossible for the uneducated mind to avoid. In my interactions, I have seen educated people, who were normal in their homes, normal at work and everywhere outside of the Church, become complete fools once inside the Church. One cannot but wonder if the central problem comes from people turning their minds off once they walk through the door of a Church or Mosque.

In a country where good roads, electricity and healthcare facilities are taken to God in prayer, the link between religion and poverty is worth analysing more closely. Do Nigerians turn to religion due to despair, or do people fall into poverty as a result of their religious beliefs? This question is pertinent because seemingly intelligent, educated people in Nigeria believe they have no control over their lives because their living and dying has been preordained and it is all in God’s hands. For these people, life choices do not count. The only method of making major life decisions – where to school, where to live, who to marry is “to tell my pastor and pray over it.”

Religion in Nigeria has become a powerful open trap that exerts tremendous social pressure that is often impossible for the uneducated mind to avoid. In my interactions, I have seen educated people, who were normal in their homes, normal at work and everywhere outside of the Church, become complete fools once inside the Church. One cannot but wonder if the central problem comes from people turning their minds off once they walk through the door of a Church or Mosque. Their minds seem conditioned to do so since they were young. They swallow anything that is said as the truth. It is no longer what the Bible says but what my Pastor says and for the Muslims, every reference is according to this Sheikh and that Imam. To a first time visitor to Nigeria, it is easy to conclude that religion makes both educated and uneducated Nigerians mindless.

The result of our religiosity is not difficult to fathom. It has been a disaster for Nigeria in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. All ramifications considered, the malfeasance of the Abrahamic faiths is staggering in its extent and its viciousness on our national psyche. The link between religion and poverty is easy; it is control. If you feel less in control of your life, you seek beliefs that help you feel greater control. Being poor and poorly educated, lacking power in the larger world and solid knowledge of the way things work, the natural fallback becomes a belief in miracles and magic. In Nigeria, magic and miracles comes in the neat package of religion. With the nation-space littered with Pastorpreneurs, who preach prosperity and nothing else, religion may be the only source of hope for a better life for a larger portion of our people.

The trick the Pastors and the rulers who patronise and encourage them know is that the greater your education (good education), the more you understand the world, and the more options you have for moving and succeeding in it. Education is the power you can see, it is the power you create that allows you to need less of miracles and magic. That is why they have ruined education collaboratively. That is why almost all the Churches and some Islamic sects and organisations have invested in education. They make it expensive, such that majority of their congregants can’t afford it and where they can, they shape the kind of education they give. They do this to ensure successful manipulation and enslavement of our people. That is why “touch not my anointed” is one of the most quoted verse in the Bible, in today’s Nigeria. It is the reason why the poor congregant will donate his entire January salary in his bid to sow by giving his first fruits (insane). That is why a person earning minimum wage is happy his Pastor has bought a second Gulf-stream jet while he barely could afford his transportation to Church.

Without a shred of doubt, Nigerian churches have failed the poor. On the other hand, Islam is busy promoting intergenerational poverty through fatalism and fundamentalism. Religious centres have become profit oriented mega-companies. All hope is not lost. If the right investments in education are embarked upon, the situation will change. Nigeria will be a better place and the social benefits of religion will naturally take centre stage and be targeted further down the socioeconomic ladder, and delivered through education, community and charitable giving.

Religion offers a sense of hope, and it helps keep the poor from total despair. It thwarts their drive to improve their lot and creates a social disincentive for progress. That is why people under stress are easier targets for evangelism. That is why the soul winning ministries have more success among the poor, and it is the reason they target people going through life-changing events such as illness, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, death in the family, etc. We ought to be wary of those who take advantage of us at our most vulnerable moments.

Without a shred of doubt, Nigerian churches have failed the poor. On the other hand, Islam is busy promoting intergenerational poverty through fatalism and fundamentalism. Religious centres have become profit oriented mega-companies. All hope is not lost. If the right investments in education are embarked upon, the situation will change. Nigeria will be a better place and the social benefits of religion will naturally take centre stage and be targeted further down the socioeconomic ladder, and delivered through education, community and charitable giving. For Nigeria’s renaissance, we must think less of hell and the annihilation of the human race. We must commit to making this life the best that it can possibly be, since it is the only life that any of us has. As urgent as we can, we must ensure that the basic needs of the majority of our people are met and that they have opportunities for security and advancement.

PREMIUM TIMES

3 Comments

  1. Interesting piece, with d correlation of poverty and religion. We just too religious (Christian and Muslim alike), in the west, they have therapists (psychotherapists and physiotherapists) that help them deal with life issues. Nigeria religion houses seem to be their therapists down here but my main problem is this lazing mentality of sowing to reaping bountifully on nothing. (Sowed in the church and come fold hands to reap bountiful). Everyman that is mentioned in the Bible is follow that by his/her work/profession. The same bible started with God’s works….

  2. Fela Kuti sang about this in his song Coffin For The Head of State…

    many village anywhere in Africa
    I waka many village anywhere in Africa
    Pastor’s house na him dey fine pass
    My people them dey stay for poor surroundings
    Pastor’s dress na him dey clean pass
    E hard for my people for them to buy soap
    Pastor na him them give respect pass
    And them do bad bad bad bad bad bad things

    It was an issue 3 decades ago and still an issue now. Do as the South African students #feesmustfall

  3. My pops usually always quote ”if our institutions are working, then we will not need religious tyrants ” the day that things start working in Nigeria, is the day you will see decline in the level of religiosity. That day however, seem like it ain gonna come.
    Another thing that hurts me is how our youths are not able to use their own head and minds to decify situations, all I hear is ‘my pastor says’.

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